SEVEN HEAVEN: Saints ‘D’ Slams Falcons for 7th Straight as Taysom Shuts Up Haters

Photo by Derek E, Hingle

The New Orleans Saints went into their home game yesterday afternoon against their arch-rivals the Atlanta Falcons with a distinct sense of urgency and purpose, as they looked to prove to the rest of the NFL that not only can they still win games while Drew Brees is out hurt for a 2nd straight year, but that they can also win with another QB leading the way in the future after Brees retires.

That player of course is back-up QB and offensive skill player Taysom Hill, who many analysts and a large portion of football fans believe is nothing more that a “gadget” or “gimmick” player and not a legitimate NFL QB. But after yesterday’s dominant 24-9 victory over the Dirty Birds that gave Hill his first-ever win as a starting QB, this morning a lot of those so-called haters now find themselves eating a healthy dose of crow just in time for Thanksgiving.

Led by the tenacious Saints defense that held Atlanta to 248 yards (59 rushing yards and 196 passing yards) while posting a season-high eight sacks by their surging defensive Front 7, the Black and Gold literally suffocated QB Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense for the majority of the contest.

As a direct result, New Orleans won its 7th straight game in a row and improved their win-loss record to (8-2) overall and reclaimed the #1 overall Playoff seed in the NFC, a game ahead of the Seattle Seahawks.

The Saints also remained unbeaten (4-0) within the NFC South Division and maintained their slight division lead over the (7-3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers; who play later tonight when they host the Los Angeles Rams on ESPN Monday Night Football.

But the defense’s incredible performance notwithstanding, after the game it was clearly evident that the main topic that everyone wanted to discuss was Hill’s first-ever start in a NFL Regular Season game.

Hill’s first “legitimate” career start was a success as he completed 18-of-23 passes for 233 yards, while also carrying 10 times for a game high 51 yards in rushing yardage; along with 2 rushing touchdowns and an impressive 108.9 passer rating.

While those numbers aren’t exactly on par among some of the NFL’s most prolific passers such as Brees, Aaron Rodgers, or Patrick Mahomes; they certainly were better than anyone believed that he would have when head coach Sean Payton indicated late last week that Hill would get the start over presumptive #2 back-up QB Jameis Winston.

Undoubtedly, Hill was the benefactor of a surging Saints defensive unit that suddenly has become one of the League’s very best in the past 3 weeks.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen‘s unit played outstanding yesterday, especially considering that they were without their best starting cornerback (Marshon Lattimore) but still managed to essentially ground the prolific Falcons passing attack.

Besides the 8 sacks, the Saints also picked off two interceptions and limited the Atlanta offense to 3 field goals and zero TD’s. It was the first time since the 2015 Season (5 years ago) that Ryan finished a game with zero passing TD’s and at least 2 interceptions.

The defense’s dominant performance was clearly appreciated by Payton.

“I just finished telling them that that is a really good offense that we were seeing”, Payton said after the game via Zoom teleconference with reporters. “When you look at position by position, I thought that that was a key. Without one of our starting corners, that was impressive.”

But the stellar play by the defense aside, it’s impossible not to give Taysom credit for doing what many of his biggest doubters (or “haters”, for lack of a better term) didn’t really believe that he could do given the circumstances.

Hill has drawn much praise from Payton in recent months, and the Saints head coach even went so far during the off-season to compare Hill to another famous QB from BYU, retired NFL Hall of Fame living legend Steve Young, who won 3 Super Bowls (one as a starting QB) for the San Francisco 49ers.

Many NFL experts and analysts scoffed at Payton’s observation, not because of Hill’s obvious athletic talent that favorably compares to Young in his heyday back during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, but rather because of Hill’s relative inexperience at playing QB in the NFL (a position that Young excelled at). Hill has also been criticized by some analysts for his lack of passing accuracy.

And while yesterday’s performance by Hill won’t necessarily be featured anytime soon by NFL Films as an “instant classic” by any means, Hill unquestionably showed his biggest critics that he was clearly up to the task at hand; which is to successfully operate Payton’s diverse offensive scheme and put the Black and Gold in position to win a game against any opponent.

After the game via Zoom teleconference with reporters, Hill acknowledged that he was focused on winning the game, and not listening to the many “haters” who view him as nothing more than a “gadget player”.

“Not to be rude or disrespectful in any way, (but) I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff. I care about the opinions of those closest to me, my friends, my family, my teammates, my coaches”, Hill said.

“And, you know, you get to this level and you have to have tunnel vision and do your thing.”

Bottom line: Taysom silenced the “haters”, and his performance also vindicated the faith that both Payton and even Brees himself have put into Hill’s capabilities.

Ultimately in the end, Payton’s “gut instincts” were proven right. Obviously Payton has much better insight than the people who speculate and questioned his decision process to make Taysom the starter over Winston, until Brees returns (presumably sometime in mid-December). It’s the reason why Payton is considered one of the NFL’s best head coaches and has won a Super Bowl.

That’s not to knock or downplay what Winston brings to the table with his previous experience as a starting QB, but Taysom was much more accurate in his passing yesterday than anyone thought that he would be. That’s counter to the narrative and criticism that he’s not a good passer.

Hill’s athleticism and ability to fill multiple roles is what makes him uniquely special. But yesterday he showed everyone that playing QB in the NFL wasn’t too difficult of an issue for him that many had believed that it would.

That observation was echoed further by the man who was calling the plays to put Hill at an advantage, despite it being his first-ever NFL Regular Season start.

“I thought that he played well. He had the one turnover late in the game in the four minute. We had a big touchdown pass called back. (But) it’s a good team win”, Payton said.

“Listen, it’s your first start ever in the NFL. I think that he called one formation (and) flipped around the wrong way. There was one motion penalty. All of that kind of calmed down and he got very comfortable with the flow of the game. We also did a good job up front, I thought, by blocking for him.”

Payton then added that the decision to start Hill over Winston was in no way intended as a “slight” against Winston. He simply went with his “gut feeling” in this particular case.

“It’s the process that we go through every week. Obviously, it’s a different type of plan. Our players were good all week, rock solid. Jameis (Winston, all of us (were prepared). Look, this happens a lot to other positions; and, I understand when it happens to the quarterback, there is more attention drawn to it. These guys handled it well. We have been playing well. It’s good to get another win.”

A 7th straight win to be exact, and a victory that made a clearly-pleased Taysom Hill smile widely as he notched his first-ever win in the National Football League at the age of 30.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on (Original by Michael C. Hebert)

“Overall, I was happy with what we did. You know, I think the first thing is, you come out, you look at turnovers and I was really disappointed that I put the ball on the ground late in the game. (I) Felt like that was a drive where we could have just put the game away. And I coughed one up and I was disappointed in that. I missed a couple throws where the ball just kind of slipped out of my hand. And again, I think that those things are easy to fix”, Hill said.

“But overall, without looking at the film and really breaking everything down. I was happy with the way that I played. I was happy with the way that my teammates played. And man, it was a collective effort to get this win.”

A collective team effort it was indeed — but it was the great performance by the man wearing the Black and Gold jersey #7 and starting at QB in the NFL for the first time ever — who served as the inspiration to give New Orleans its 7th straight victory and helped to keep the Saints atop of the entire NFC.

And for happy Who Dat fans this morning, it’s a clear-cut case of “Seven Heaven” if there ever was one….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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